“We have to get out of this house,” I told my three year old. We’d spent too much time on the couch watching tv; enough was enough. He suggested we take a hike in our favorite woods, and I agreed. Since we were both still nursing a cough, we took it easy. We meandered, we observed, and we talked. We took our time. We spent a solid ten minutes watching a deer eat grass near the trail. At one point my three year old stopped in his tracks to listen to the wind in the trees. He just wanted to take it all in.
Slowing down helps us to savor the good moments, and it gives us the tools to cope with the challenging ones.
I work really hard to live mindfully. As a therapist, I know practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and encourage healthier self-talk. Practicing mindfulness is also positively correlated with empathy and compassion. Mindfulness can even make us more effective parents. I’m all in on mindfulness. I work hard at it, but it will always be a struggle for me. Yet here was my small child living it so effortlessly and with rapture. I had to consciously make the choice not to rush things along or get impatient. I followed his lead and chose to just be present. In doing so, we created one of my favorite memories. I’m loathe to admit that I don’t often choose to devote my full attention to my son without a time limit. However, "The Season of the Endless Cold" was forcing me to accept a slower pace. It was a good reminder that my son won’t always be fascinated by the sight of a deer (and suggest we too pretend to be deer so as to not scare it). Someday I’ll miss hearing his extensive thoughts on monster trucks. I’ll miss the sight of his curly hair and small body as he runs ahead of me on the trail. I’ll miss allowing the morning to open up in front of us with endless possibilities for adventure. That day I realized that we don’t do enough of that. We don’t go places without a plan, and we’re never not in a rush. It’s rare that I don’t have an agenda, and “mindfully enjoy my child's company” rarely makes the list.
Taking the time to slow down gave us an opportunity for connection. That sweet morning helped me remember that mindful listening makes our children feel like they’re worth our time. Even though I tire of hearing about Paw Patrol, I know that actively listening to what’s important to my three year old means he’ll grow up knowing I’m interested in what he has to say, and that his thoughts have value. Slowing down helps us to savor the good moments, and it gives us the tools to cope with the challenging ones. When we're mindful, we're able to choose our words and actions carefully and with intention. I'm reminded of the quote by Dr. John Trainer, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” They're also the most important teachers when we allow them to be.